Samsung Gear 2 – Owner's Review

Samsung Gear 2

I’ve always been interested in a device that let’s me interact with the phone, or at least notify me about the phone, without the need for me to actively pull out the phone from my pocket. Back then, there was the bluetooth watch, which shows who’s texting and who’s calling. Some can also dial contacts, but the call will have to be done by the phone itself.

The reason? There are times when I don’t have my phone on me all the time, yet I want to be able to receive calls and check notifications. Or even when I have my phone with me but I couldn’t use it for reasons such as in a meeting, or driving, Also, it’s also useful when I need to use some functions such as camera, voice recording, and such.

What is it?
It’s the second iteration of Samsung’s smartwatch. It was launched together with a cheaper version called Gear Neo and a fitness wearable called Gear Fit. They doesn’t have the word ‘Galaxy’ in their name since Samsung decided to move away from Android and use their own OS called Tizen (Fit runs on a simpler engine, neither Tizen nor Android). It hooks via Bluetooth to certain Samsung phones, and at time of writing, does not sync with phones from other manufacturers.

How does it looks like?

Not the best looking of the lot, but not bad looking either

It sports a 1.63″ Super AMOLED screen on a mix of metal and plastic body. The rubber-ish strap is inter-changable, and could be fitted with any 18-22mm straps.

The screen is sandwiched by a home button at the bottom, and an array of camera and IR blaster on the top.

The Gear 2 and my previous watch, a Casio Edifice, side by side

The Gear 2 and my previous watch, a Casio Edifice, side profile

The Gear 2 and my previous watch, a Casio Edifice, on the table. the Gear is longer, but the Casio is wider.

The watch itself is not that thick, and the bottom part actually tapers down to make it appear thinner when worn.

Quite thick for a watch, but the bottom tapers inwards to make it look thinner when worn

The microphone is situated on the right side of the watch while speaker grill is somewhat placed a bit to the back of the watch and hidden by your skin when worn. the sound does not sound muffled though, although I doubt our soft skin helps the sound to bounce up.

There’s a small slit on each sides of the watch for the charger to cling on to. Personally I’d prefer magnets, or better yet, wireless charging.

On the back, you can see the charging port and the heartbeat monitor apart from the labeling.

The slots for the charging cradle. One on each side
The mic is on the right side
The speaker grill on the left

On the right side of the watch is the speaker grill, and you can see the charging port, the heartbeat monitor and the labeling on the back.

The clasp is unique, but its not uncommon to see unique clasp in the world of watches. it clasps with a satisfying click, but at times it require some attention to make sure the clamps are properly aligned.

Samsung’s own clasp, probably, since I’ve never seen one on other watch.

Just in case you’re not sure who made the watch 🙂

What can it do?
The phone syncs with certain Samsung phones (really, it’s only limited to these phones) via bluetooth LE 4.0, so it can relay notifications, alarms, and most alerts that may come to your phone. It also can take photos with its 2MP camera, control electric devices with its IR blaster, accept voice controls via its built-in S-Voice (some commands are sent to the phone, while others are executed by the watch itself).

The 2MP camera and the IR blaster

Since it’s connected to the phone via Bluetooth, it can make and accept calls, and with the built in speaker and mic, the phone can be in the pocket while the call is being made/answered. and while connected, the phone can automatically change the lockscreen to toggle between pattern code when not connected and swipe when connected.

The charging port, and the heartbeat monitor

The watch is also equipped with a heart rate monitor and the accelerometer can be used as a step counter. it can also monitor sleep movements and determine your sleep pattern.

Why did I buy it?
I’ve always been interested in smartwatches (read first part of this article), and there are times when bringing my large Note 3 around in the house is too troublesome. Impromptu photo moments are not missed by the need to dig up the phone from the pocket, unlocking, and searching for the camera app.

Getting notifications on my watch and glancing the notification instead of fishing for the phone everytime it chimes becomes ever more useful since messaging services like Whatsapp introduces group messaging, so I can read the notifications on the watch first before determining if I need to grab the phones for further actions.

Since I like to record events around my life in the form of video or photos, Samsung Gear 2 stood out from its competitors (including the Android Wear watches that was launched much later), thanks to its camera. the IR blaster and the heart rate monitor is a bonus addition, although in real world use, the IR blaster proves to be very useful

How do I use it?
After syncing to my Note 3 using the Gear Manager app, I’ve set the watch to receive calls, SMS and emails from the Samsung apps for those services. in addition to that, I’ve selected apps that I want notifications from, such as Whatsapp and Google Now. These apps, however, just share their notifications and does not provide additional functions as of yet.

This is how normal notofications pop up would look like. Basicaly it mirrors the notification on the phone, and you can choose which app to show. I does not carry the additional functions over without the developer adding it specifically, though.

Some apps like the built in Samsung Messaging and Email app can provide additional actions such as replying.

While the email does not support images, you can view MMS images. additional function can be added from the menu button on the top right.

Please note that if the email is accessing enterprise emails, security may not allow you to read directly from the watch.

If an email is encrypted and protected by Exchange, you can’t view it here on the watch.

Through the companion app, the contacts are synced and I can now make calls from the contact list. Starting an SMS, however, is not supported except via S-Voice. It’s not as powerful or accurate as Google’s version but for most uses, its usable. Mostly I used the S-Voice to initiate calls, or to set alarms and reminders.

The camera on the watch automatically uploads any photo or video taken to the phone. Videos are recorded in 720p and limited to 15 seconds

A sample photo from the phone. Click to view full size.

I’ve then set the IR blaster so it can control my TV and Astro Set-Top Box, and later cont
rol the air conditioning unit at office. This proves to be very useful when A) the remote goes MIA, B) my daughter monopolizes the remote or B) I’m just too lazy to reach for the remote.

Lastly, I’ve tried to find a watchface that would be functional, looks good, and does not eat the battery like crazy. Gear 2 uses AMOLED, so the more pure black area means more battery is saved. There are some watchfaces downloadable from the Samsung App store, but after some experimenting, I’m settling with the one provided by Samsung with the step counter. This watchface, while does not show the battery level, proves to have the most balanced function, looks and battery life of all.

What do I want more from it?
An ambient light sensor – thewatch is set to light up when I do the “whats-the-time-let-me-look-at-my-watch gesture. Most of the times, it works, although the gesture needs to be obvious. Sometimes, it works even when i don’t want it too. Parking my car during the dark always switches it on, with those kungfu moves I do to keep my car parked properly and not hit the wall. And when its on in the night, its blinding.

Lowering the brightness helps in the night, but makes the display useless in bright daylight. Theres a daylight mode that increases brightness and contrast, but then goes back to default blind-me-in-the-darkness level of 4.
A simpler way to charge – currently a charging dongle is provided with each purchase. It’s basically a plastic clasp that connects the magnetic charger to a micro USB port. The problem is this makes charging impossible if the cradle is not available. In certain cases, this causes battery anxiety (although I’m glad to inform that the Gear 2 delivered its promise of 2-3 days of use in a single charge, using the pedometer and the pedometer watchface). I’m looking for a simpler charger, or a magnetic dock that’s similar to the one used in retail outlet displays.

A bit less sandboxed – the apps environment for tizen is sandboxed. Which means the interaction in between apps have to go through though the OS. While this is secured, currently there’s not much an app can do with one another. Probably exceptions can be done for certified apps such as keyboards and voice control such as Google Now. 
Always on voice control – seeing how Android Wear watches and Moto X did it, I’ve always fancied barking orders to my devices. Although I’ve managed to get this done thanks to Google Now and Nova Launcher, getting it to work on the smart watch is more important since there’s no keyboard. the closest I got was to add a double home button press to access S Voice.